As Fianna Fáil’s political strategies bring them further criticism, Richard Clune examines the party’s duties, and the role they have in the future of Irish politics
Fianna Fáil’s decision to neither field a candidate in the upcoming presidential election, nor endorse or nominate an Independent candidate, has been met with opposition from many quarters, ranging from deputy party leader Éamon Ó Cuív to many political commentators and the public.
This is the first time Fianna Fáil has opted not to run a candidate in the presidential election in its eighty-five year existence. It also made the chances of David Norris and Dana Rosemary Scallon getting the required nominations a lot tougher. For a person to get their name on the ballot paper, he or she needs the support of twenty members of the Oireachtas (TDs and Senators) or four local Councils.
Public opposition to this move is based on the idea that it is undemocratic for Fianna Fáil to neither run a candidate nor allow its members to nominate freely, but this doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny. The party is, by and large, a private organisation, which can decide whether or not to run a person in the presidential election. The Socialist Party and People Before Profit Alliance have chosen not to put forward a left-wing nomination but they are not under pressure to do so.
Fianna Fáil not allowing its members to back Independents may be bad for the party itself, but Fine Gael and Labour aren’t allowing this either. Fine Gael has seventy-five TDs, meaning that there is the possibility that fifty-five members could easily have signed the nomination papers for Norris or Dana, but Enda Kenny decreed otherwise.
Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin views the lack of funding within the party as the reason for not fielding an internal candidate. Voter anger and the ‘anybody but Fianna Fáil’ sentiment among much of the electorate would make it extremely unlikely that the new President would be from the party. As such, it appears that Martin has made an intelligent judgement for the good of the party. Another factor is that the two party members who showed interest in running for the party over the past number of weeks, Brian Crowley and Labhras Ó Murchú, don’t have much of a public profile.
Indeed, many people would never have heard of Ó Murchú before, nor recognised his face when it appeared in the papers last week. Crowley is an MEP for Munster and, again, does not have a strong profile. This all indicates that a Fianna Fáil name on the ballot paper would simply give the Irish people another opportunity to bury the party.
However, Fianna Fáil’s verdict not to give an Independent the required support to get them on the ballot is perplexing. The situation looked set for the party to swoop in and nominate David Norris after he reinstated himself in the race for the Áras on The Late Late Show a couple of weeks ago. From a distance it looked like a win-win situation. Fianna Fáil could be the good guys and give the electorate the name they have consistently wanted for the last six months and even if Norris lost, they would not have lost any money, any energy in canvassing votes and, in my opinion, any credibility.
In nearly every poll taken since Norris announced his intentions to run last March, he has almost always come out on top. In a recent poll in the Sunday Independent, twenty-nine per cent said that they would vote for Norris, a massive twelve per cent more than his nearest challenger, Michael D. Higgins. Even when he had to defend himself after comments about paedophilia and the age of consent, and had to withdraw when he wrote letters of clemency for a former lover, his support from the public has been overwhelming. Whether or not you wish to vote for him, if he had not been nominated it would illustrate some serious flaws in our nomination process.
Incredibly, the party which lead the country as recently as March is now behind Sinn Féin at just ten per cent in opinion polls and for the first time in its life, is facing the real and increasing possibility of extinction. Public anger is constantly rising as the party’s main TDs, and even Ógra Fianna Fáil here in UCD, appear to forget the past fourteen years and the devastation the party has brought upon the country. Against this background the actions of the party are under constant scrutiny, and it would be well advised to tread carefully and at least attempt to read the national psyche.
Their actions suggest that this may not be their course of action however, but the party will have to learn quickly if Fianna Fáil is not to become a thing of the past.